CONTRIBUTED BY TERESA KENNARD
Open a yoga retreat on a tiny Thai island? It’s the stuff dreams are made of! This couple has actually made it happen. Find out how…
It’s always been our dream to live by what we love to do. Why live your life working in something you don’t like doing? Life is just too short! It’s too precious!
In the Beginning…
Originally, I trained and worked as a professional dancer in the UK.
Kes, my husband, and I met in London and then went travelling in Thailand, Loas, indonesia, Australia, and India. On our travels, we were looking for someplace that we liked and where we could see ourselves happily settling down to start a family.
Along the way, we discovered yoga and its philosophy!
We fell completely in love with yoga, with each other, and with the tiny island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand.
I guess, when you think about it, lots of people may have just left things there. But we weren’t keen on returning to the UK to start a family so we started to dream a little harder about how we might make a new life in Thailand on this island we came to love so much.
Long Story Short…
We had some savings and we used them to buy some land here. Then we started building the yoga retreat in 2000. Thirteen years later, we’re still here running our own yoga business, with our young son jess who’s twelve years old and now studying for his PADI diving certification on the island.
The Local Connection
It’s probably difficult to do what we did if you don’t know the island and don’t know anyone here. That’s why, if you know you want to do something somewhere, you probably should go to that place in advance and really spend some quality time browsing around, getting the lay of the land, and really getting to know the locals. It will pay important dividends!
We didn’t plan it like this originally though. We weren’t scoping out the island at all for any future venture!
At first we were just visiting here because we loved it. We never dreamed we would start a yoga retreat here. What happened was that we always went back to the same place each time we visited and we would stay with this nice Thai family who runs My Way Bungalows on Haad Salad Beach.
After our sixth time back, the Thai family asked us if we wanted to live here. They told us they had some land they could sell us if we wanted to have a look.
When Opportunity Knocks…
We loved the land and knew the family well by this point, so we agreed to ‘buy’ the land from them and paid a small deposit to keep it. Next, we made an agreement that we would come back in one year to pay for the rest of the land.
True to our promise, we came back one year later – and brought with us our 4-month old son, Jess!
The family then helped us set up our company. Because foreigners are not allowed to actually own land or property in Thailand, we had to legally rent the land for 30 years instead of actually ‘buying’ it.
The hardest thing for us was the language barrier. That, and the fact that Koh Phangan is very small and doesn’t have many building companies, shops or lawyers. Because of that, most the time we had to travel or get what we needed – or have it shipped over from the larger neighbouring island of Koh Samui – or from Surat Thani on the mainland.
After being here for some years, we noticed that Koh Phangan really is mostly just a holiday island. People are always coming and going.
This has meant that it’s sometimes difficult to develop long-term friends. Also, in low season there aren’t many people here, so sometimes socialising can be limited. It’s also a little difficult at school for jess because there is little diversity in who he gets to meet since it’s so small.
But…if you really want something enough, you can do anything!
How we Enabled Yoga-Lovers to Find Us
i set up our website right at the beginning when we were still building. Even though we live in a remote location, we are easily connected to the rest of the world online, so our website was essential to get started immediately. Now we get most of our students through our on-line booking.
We also get quite a lot of drop-in students from the local beaches who arrive on holiday and then ‘discover’ us and want to enjoy the services we offer.
Our Retreat Centre
We’re located in the Northwest of Koh Phangan, nestled in the jungle, just ten minutes away from popular Haad Salad beach. Our surroundings offer a truly nurturing environment and are essential to help both us and our visitors to develop yoga skills and be inspired to cultivate a better life.
Deciding What to Offer
We believe in and promote self-healing. We believe that our students are their own best teachers, so our aim is to help provide the necessary tools to deepen each person’s personal awareness, thus helping them to improve their health and own personal development.
We’ve chosen to do this through a few different offerings, chosen based on what we believe truly works: detox programs, hatha yoga, Mysore style Ashtanga yoga, chakra balancing, and meditation.
We use a combination of familiar postures (asana), as well as more challenging poses, with adjustments and variations given to individual students as needed. Emphasis is always placed on the breath, which helps to bring awareness to both the body and mind simultaneously.
The result is that the body becomes energized, the mind becomes centered, and awareness is increased. Ultimately, our aim is to increase vitality whilst promoting an overall sense of well-being.
We built our retreat centre a bit at a time over the years as we could afford it – and as we could source what we needed. We’re now very proud to offer a very complete experience for our guests!
We have a ‘shala.’ This is our open-air, wooden yoga platform that sits on an incline of an extinct volcano and looks out across the deep greens of the jungle towards the opposite mountain crest. A river runs through the valley below, while the sound of cicadas and other jungle creatures charm one’s senses as we engage in our yoga practices.
We have a restaurant where we serve an assortment of healthy foods that combine traditional Thai dishes with a touch of ‘home.’ We also have some other favorites that we picked up over the years and like to share with our visitors, including our delicious chai tea and Friday night Indian Buffet.
Of course, we also offer veggie and vegan options as well! We even offer Thai cooking classes for any of our visitors who would like to learn some traditional local dishes.
We have an herbal steam room that assists with a lot of the special package offerings we have. We also have a movie and reading room.
We now also have accommodation available, but only for students on courses or retreats. We have are six rooms that offer an encouragement towards the simplicity of living in the midst of natural surroundings. We don’t have air conditioning as we are an eco-location and AC is not very eco! Besides, the fresh air breezes, jungle climate and fans are perfectly sufficient.
Our Advice to Others
The first thing to remember is that none of this happens over night. You take the first step and simply trust that the next step will become clear as you proceed. You don’t always need to see the destination to begin on your journey. Just take the first step. Plan to do things a little at a time.
And have some faith! Believe in yourself. Always work with a helpful and grateful mindset, and those around you will come to your assistance to help you achieve your dreams.
We love to help people make positive changes in their lives. We love how both yoga and detox changes people in dramatic ways. We see these changes everyday and that makes us smile.
Living a simple life can be very rewarding. And that’s why we’ve pursued our dream of doing what we love!
- Contributed by: Teresa Kennard (via email interview)
- Written, formatted and edited by: Krista Beauvais
- Photos: all photos are courtesy of Yoga Retreat Koh Phangan
- Website: www.yogaretreat-kohphangan.com
- Address: The Yoga Retreat, 65/4 Moo 8, Koh Phangan, Surat Thani 84280, Thailand.
- Phone: +66 77 374 310
- Email Teresa directly: enquiries [at] yogaretreat-kohphangan [dot] com